Shooting with a dead format

In 1996 Kodak introduced the Advanced Photo System, or APS. Aimed largely at the consumer market, we could now buy film smaller than 35mm in a single cartridge, load it into specially designed cameras without having to spool film, so no risk of the film coming loose from the end spool, and shoot. You could even get 40 shots from some rolls. Once the film was finished it rolled itself back into its cartridge, ready for processing. After developing you got the cartridge back with your negatives still inside, so no more filling old shoeboxes with uncatalogued negatives.

The problem for APS wasn’t the quality of the images despite what many would have you think. There were some good cameras produced to shoot APS. As well as the pocket point and shoot you had cameras such as the Nikon Pronea series which could use most of Nikon’s SLR lenses. People had been using 110 for years by this point, so families had no issue switching to the convenience of APS. There was a good choice of film from both of the giants, Kodak and Fuji, plus other suppliers. The problem was that APS appeared just before digital started taking off. By the early 2000’s many people, not professionals yet, were starting to buy their first digital cameras, and we all know what happened to film after that. From the peak of 2003, film fell off a cliff. Gone, finished, dead for ever (supposedly). And APS went with it, finally discontinued in 2011 but dead years before then.

A few weeks ago I attended a local camera fair and among all the large formats, the Mamiyas and the Leicas, there was this little thing. A Kodak Advantix F320. APS. With film that had been stored in a wine cooler for years. $10. Sold.

How did it shoot? I took it out one lunchtime at work with B&W film loaded and it shot great. Not sharp, but then you wouldn’t expect too much sharpness from this camera. But accurate, didn’t overexpose and given that the film expired a decade ago, not bad at all. A little bit of work on the contrast produced some very acceptable images.

So maybe APS is dead in that the film is no longer produced. But it’s not quite buried yet. The quality of the reduced (vs 35mm) film size is still very acceptable and in a SLR it becomes even better. But that is another post.

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